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Pay It Forward Mass Market Paperback – October 3, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 398 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Catherine Ryan Hyde's Pay It Forward takes as its premise the bumper-sticker phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally" and builds a novel around it. The hero of her story is young Trevor McKinney, a 12-year-old whose imagination is sparked by an extra-credit assignment in Social Studies: "Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action." Trevor's idea is deceptively simple: do a good deed for three people, and in exchange, ask each of them to "pay it forward" to three more. "So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.... Then it sort of spreads out." Trevor's early attempts to get his project off the ground seem to end in failure: a junkie he befriends ends up back in jail; an elderly woman whose garden he tends dies unexpectedly. But even after the boy has given up on his plan, his acts of kindness bear unexpected fruit, and soon an entire movement is underway and spreading across America.

Trevor, meanwhile, could use a little help himself. His father walked out on the family, and his mother, Arlene, is fighting an uphill battle with alcoholism, poor judgment in men, and despair. When the boy's new Social Studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, arrives on the scene, Trevor sees in him not only a source of inspiration for how to change the world, but also the means of altering his mother's life. Yet Reuben has his own set of problems. Horribly scarred in Vietnam, he is reluctant to open himself up to the possibility of rejection--or love. Indeed, the relationship between Arlene and Reuben is central to the novel as these two damaged people learn to "pay forward" the trust and affection Trevor has given them.

Hyde tells her tale from many different perspectives, using letters, diary entries, and first- and third-person narratives from the various people whose lives Trevor's project touches. Jerry Busconi, for example, the addict Trevor tried to help, one night finds himself talking a young woman out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge:

I'm a junkie, Charlotte. I'm always gonna be a junkie. I ain't never gonna be no fine, upstanding citizen. But then I thought, hell. Just pay it forward anyway. Kid tried to help me. Okay, it didn't work. Still, I'm trying to help you. Maybe you'll jump. I don't know. But I tried, right? But let me tell you one thing. I woke up one morning and somebody gave me a chance. Just outta nowhere. It was like a miracle. Now, how do you know that won't happen to you tomorrow?
Pay It Forward is reminiscent of Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life. Like the film, this novel has a steely core of gritty reality beneath its optimism: yes, one person can make a difference, can help to make the world a better place, but sickness, pain, heartache, and tragedy will still always be a part of the human condition. If at times Hyde stumbles a bit while negotiating the razor-thin line between honest feeling and sentimentality, it's generally not for long. And the occasional lapse into artificially colored emotion can be forgiven when weighed against the courage it takes to write so unabashedly hopeful a story in such cynical times. --Sheila Bright --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

An ordinary boy engineers a secular miracle in Hyde's (Funerals for Horses) winning second novel, set in small-town 1990s California. Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney, the son of Arlene, a single mom working two jobs, and Ricky, a deadbeat absentee dad, does not seem well-positioned to revolutionize the world. But when Trevor's social studies teacher, Reuben St. Clair, gives the class an extra-credit assignment, challenging his students to design a plan to change society, Trevor decides to start a goodwill chain. To begin, he helps out three people, telling each of them that instead of paying him back, they must "pay it forward" by helping three others. At first, nothing seems to work out as planned, not even Trevor's attempt to bring Arlene and Reuben together. Granted, Trevor's mother and his teacher are an unlikely couple: she is a small, white, attractive, determined but insecure recovering alcoholic; he is an educated black man who lost half his face in Vietnam. But eventually romance does blossom, and unbeknownst to Trevor, his other attempts to help do "pay forward," yielding a chain reaction of newsworthy proportions. Reporter Chris Chandler is the first to chase down the story, and Hyde's narrative is punctuated with excerpts from histories Chandler publishes in later years (Those Who Knew Trevor Speak and The Other Faces Behind the Movement), as well as entries from Trevor's journal. Trevor's ultimate martyrdom, and the extraordinary worldwide success of his project, catapult the drama into the realm of myth, but Hyde's simple prose rarely turns preachy. Her Capraesque themeAthat one person can make a differenceAmay be sentimental, but for once, that's a virtue. $250,000 ad/promo; BOMC and QPB alternates; 7-city author tour; film rights optioned by Warner Bros. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket; Reprint edition (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743412028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743412025
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (398 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #989,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Over the years, as I read more and more, my expectations get lower. I often just hope a book will keep me entertained on the train ride home, or distract me before bed. Catherine Ryan Hyde's books continually spoil me, though, and make me miserable with everything else I read for weeks afterward.
Pay It Forward is one of those stories that, like my grandmother says about her favorite books, "Just talks to you, like you're sitting right there in the room!" It's a story about normal people and their normal dreams, which, like most normal dreams, are really extraordinary when they come true.
It's so wonderful to step back from a book with a lovable character and realize that the character doesn't end with the book. It's never over, because the writer -- the character's creator -- is still alive and full of ideas. The idea of paying it forward really does come from a living, thinking person, and what's better, a person with a beautiful voice that just might reach out further than she can imagine.
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Format: Hardcover
When I read this book I was in the midst of an experimental project geared toward preventing child abuse via changing the energy in our community - something of a "Pay It Forward" in action -- reading Hyde's book offered me an affirmative boost that was magical. As soon as I finished reading it, I emailed more than a hundred people about the book - and the local libraries have not been able to keep it on the shelves since. It is an easy premise to put aside with cynicism - if one's choice in life is to hold on to the negative (this can't work, people aren't that way, etc.) and keep out the positive (each of us has the potential to change the world in powerful ways . . . every day). What I'm finding, is that more and more people are opening to joy and love and giving and letting go of control of outcomes (i.e. trusting in doing something wonderful just for the sake of doing it) - and if you're one of those folks, you'll find this book an energy booster, an affirmation, a gift for heart and soul.
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By HH on August 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This story begins by introducing us to the main characters: Trevor, a 12-year old boy; Arlene, his recovering alcoholic mother; and Reuben, who is a wounded Vietnam vet and Trevor's social studies teacher. As an extra-credit project, Reuben challenges his class to do something that matters to the world and report on it. While his classmates do predictable projects like recycling, Trevor comes up with "Pay It Forward", a movement where he does momentous good deeds for three other people and in return asks each of them to do something for three people, thus paying it forward. Trevor's classmates laugh at him, believing that it's in people's nature to fail to follow through on the promise to pay it forward. But the movement begins to have terrific results on the world.
I liked the way the book was written. The author spoke from the point of view of all the main characters and told the story through all of them. The style had its drawbacks: it was easy to get confused about which character was speaking. But it worked for this book.
This isn't your ordinary feel-good Random Acts of Kindness type of book. This is a book about real people feeling real pain who had their pain eased in very strange ways. And it's about people who wouldn't normally reach out to others, but they take the challenge seriously. In short, it's about you and me, and our neighbors, friends, and coworkers, the people who aren't usually anxious to be generous to strangers. And it's about people like us doing better.
I would recommend this book to people who need to read something inspirational but find the Chicken Soup for the Soul stories cheesy. I would also recommend it to people who are looking for something larger than themselves to devote their lives to.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Reuben St.Clair is a horribly disfigured Vietnam vet. He's also a teacher beginning at a new school in Atascadero, Ca. In his class he has Trevor McKinney, a somewhat intense loner of a a fourteen-year old. The last major character is Trevor's mother, Arlene. She also has her flaws being a recovering alcoholic. Into this mix Reuben throws a simple yet difficult class assignment. He asks the kids to come up with one idea that is simple enough for one person to implement but that will change the world for the better. Trevor comes up with the idea of "Pay It Forward." Do good deeds for three different people but instead of having them pay him back they must pay it forward to three more people. The book then follows various people and how they're affected by these simple deeds.
I found the book compelling. The writing was clean and the characters were well done. They drew you into the book and kept you reading. The one thing I did like was that this was not treated as some sort of magical idea that immediately transformed everyone it touched. Jerry the junkie remained Jerry the junkie, but he did try to pay it forward. It's a good book, an interesting book, and above all an uplifting book. It may not be great literature but it is certainly worth the time spent reading it.
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